Editor's Note: The Busy Kitchen is a Monday column written by two area chefs - Valarie Carter and Tiffany Poe - who also happen to be mothers of young children. They explore nutrition, cooking for kids and more.
We've all probably been asked the question, "What food would you take with you to a deserted island if you had to pick just one?"
The answer without hesitation should be quinoa.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is the mother of all healthy grains and starches. This once "sacred seed" can be traced back to the ancient Incas.
At one point the Spaniards forced these indigenous tribes to stop growing quinoa and made wheat their predominant crop. It somehow survived and, in the past 50 years, quinoa has made an international comeback. It is now actively grown in Central and South America.
Quinoa is cooked like rice and can be cooked in a dozen ways. It can be purchased in the grocery store next to the rice or specialty grain section.
Quinoa has a light and fluffy texture and a nutty savory flavor. It's easy to cook and stores well either cooked or dry.
This seriously healthy seed can really add life to your meals. Quinoa is great for breakfast because it's hearty and it pairs well with honey, nuts and berries.
If you've never heard of quinoa you probably have a few questions about this unique, pearl-like starch that has become quite popular in restaurant and culinary circles alike.
If you are looking to add something new to your family pantry this year, try quinoa. In fact, 2013 has been declared International Year of Quinoa by the United Nations, so there is not a better time to get to know this celebrated seed.
What is quinoa?
Valarie: It's known as the mother grain, but it's actually a seed. Surprisingly it's in the same family as beets, spinach and tumbleweeds. Who doesn't love a yummy tumbleweed? All that said, for culinary applications; use it in place of grains like rice, barley, cracked wheat and rolled oats, or small pastas like couscous. Quinoa has a small, beadlike shape, and comes in three main colors, white/ivory, red and black. They can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Is quinoa healthier than other grains?
Valarie: Yes! Quinoa is a great source of fiber, is low in fat and calories and is considered a complete protein. That means that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids that humans need to function properly. It also contains respectable amounts of iron, phosphorus and calcium, which makes it great for vegans and the lactose intolerant.
How do I purchase quinoa?
Tiffany: Quinoa is sold in 12-ounce boxes or 1-pound bags. And some grocery or health food stores sell it by the pound in the bulk section. You can find it in three different colors, white or traditional, red (my favorite), and black (rare). Some suppliers will sell a tri-colored bag, which is a great way to purchase it.
Is quinoa expensive?
Tiffany: The average price of quinoa in bulk is $2.30 a pound. It's a little more expensive in the box or pre-packaged bag. It's about the same price as brown or wild rice and is comparable to other specialty grain-like products like amaranth, barley and millet. If you base it on nutrition cost per pound, it's worth its weight in gold.
Are there any tricks to cooking quinoa?
Tiffany: Quinoa can be cooked just like rice. It cooks at a 1:2 ratio, or 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups liquid. Two cups of raw quinoa will produce four to five cups of cooked quinoa.
Water is often used as the liquid, but you can use stock, too. You want to rinse the seed thoroughly before cooking to remove any dust or debris and then bring it to a boil and reduce to simmer. I leave my quinoa uncovered on a low simmer and allow all the water to boil out. When all the water has evaporated, turn the quinoa out onto a cookie sheet and cool it quickly. This helps keep the quinoa from overcooking and becoming sticky. You can keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and it freezes well. Quinoa also does well in a rice cooker.
Is anything else made from quinoa?
Valarie: Several companies have capitalized on this "gluten-free" grain-like option and have produced numerous products with quinoa. One of my personal favorites is quinoa pasta.
Is quinoa poisonous?
Valarie: Yes and no. In its natural state, quinoa is coated with bitter-tasting saponins that can be a mild eye and respiratory irritant and low gastrointestinal irritant. Fortunately, this makes it unpalatable for birds and other critters who might like to eat it before we get to harvest it. Luckily for humans, this coating is almost always removed during processing for home and commercial use. The leaves and stems do contain high levels of oxalic acid, but these are not readily available for human consumption.
Why do you get so excited about quinoa?
Tiffany: I fell in love with quinoa after trying it about 10 years ago. I've been introducing it to people ever since and can't seem to get enough of it. It's always my choice when I want to get my nutrition back in check or when I want to feel like an Incan warrior. My kids like it because when it's cooked it looks like little fish eyes.
Who should eat quinoa?
Valarie: It's wonderful if you need to eat gluten-free. Vegetarians and vegans will benefit from its punch of protein and kick of calcium. It's also great for anyone who is concerned about getting maximum nutrition with a minimum of calories. Plus it tastes great!
QUINOA GRANOLA BARS
Makes 10-12 snack bars
4 cups cooked tri-colored quinoa (as per package directions)
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 ground flax seeds
1/2 cup chopped pistachios (you can use any nut you like)
1 stick organic butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. In a small sauce pan combine the butter, honey, molasses and vanilla. Bring to a simmer and stir to combine.
2. In a large mixing bowl add cooked quinoa, oats, chocolate chips, ground flax seed and chopped nuts and stir to combine. Drizzle over the butter mixture and gently combine. Some chocolate chips will melt and some will stay chunky.
3. Pour mixture into buttered 9x13-inch baking dish, press to smooth and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
4. Remove, cool and refrigerate for at least two hours before slicing. Bars will be chewy.
VEGAN QUINOA CHILI
1/4 cup olive oil
6 ounces crimini or portabella mushrooms, diced small
1 medium eggplant, diced small
1 medium onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
6 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 14.5-ounce cans petite-diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 cups lentils (I used red but brown or French work well, too), rinsed and picked through
1 1/2 cups quinoa, any color, rinsed
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups water or vegetable stock - plus more water if needed
3 medium zucchini, diced small
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan (at least 6 quarts) heat olive oil over high heat. Add half the mushrooms to the pan and sauté well. Add a dash of salt and the remaining mushrooms. Sauté well.
2. Reduce heat to medium and add eggplant and another dash of salt. Sauté until lightly browned.
3. Add onion and sauté until translucent.
4. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin and black pepper. Cook, stirring well, for about a minute.
5. Add tomatoes, oregano, lentils, quinoa, salt, and liquid. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cover. Continue to cook until lentils are soft and quinoa is cooked through. Add a little more liquid if mixture is too stiff or lentils or quinoa isn't done.
6. Stir in zucchini and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
QUINOA BREAKFAST CEREAL
Makes 6 to 8 servings
4 cups cooked red quinoa (as per package directions)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1. Prepare quinoa as per package directions and cool completely. This step can be done in advance.
2. Combine honey, cinnamon and pecans and fold in gently to incorporate.
3. Serve for breakfast or as a snack. I like to portion one-half cup amounts in little containers for days I'm on the go.
2 cups dry quinoa, rinsed
3 3/4 cups cold water
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 small Vidalia or other sweet onion, diced small
20 basil leaves, torn or chiffonade (see note)
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and dried well, shredded, chopped, torn or chiffonade
1 cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil or olive oil
2 tablespoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Combine quinoa, water and pinch of salt in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed and seeds are separated, light and fluffy. Let stand covered another 10 minutes. Fluff seeds with a fork.
2. Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together. While quinoa is still warm fold in cranberries, onion, basil, pecans and vinaigrette. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.
Note: To chiffonade: Stack several leaves and roll them lengthwise, very tightly. Cut the roll of leaves across the grain or crosswise to make very thin strips.
Makes 10-12 servings
4 cups cooked tri-colored quinoa (as per package directions)
1 cup diced tomatoes (Roma for vine ripe)
1 cup seeded diced English cucumber
2 cups chopped parsley
1/2 cup sliced scallions
Juice from 5 lemons, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Salt and pepper
1. In a large bowl add quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and scallions to combine. Add lemon juice and zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving.
1 cup all-purpose flour (see note)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 c cooked and cooled quinoa (see note)
1/2 cup chocolate chips or chunks of your choice
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit of your choice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3. Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
4. Add egg and vanilla. Mix until well combined.
5. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Stir in oats, quinoa, chocolate, dried fruit.
7. Drop by teaspoonful or small scoop onto baking sheet, preferably lined with parchment.
8. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set and golden brown.
Note: For a slightly healthier and puffier, cookie: Use 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour.
Cook quinoa by combining 1 cup rinsed quinoa and 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes. Allow to stand covered for 10 minutes. Spread quinoa on to a sheet pan to cool.
I like many different combinations but I particularly like white chocolate with dried cranberry, dark chocolate with dried blueberry, and milk chocolate with dried apricots.